(b Harjumaa, 7 Aug 1930).
Composer. Tormis’ music has to be regarded in much broader context than only Estonian. His works are connected to the whole intellectual heritage of Finno-Ugrian peoples including the Estonians and ethnic minorities (the Karelians, the Livonians, the Vepsians and others) in peril of disappearance as well as major nationalities like the Hungarians and the Finns.
The Baltic-Finnish folk music – the Runic song – dates back to thousands of years. In Tormis’ works the elements of Runic song and contemporary musical language are so closely interrelated to each other that it makes hard to separate them.
Tormis turned to the Estonian folk music in his early years already (Eesti kalendrilaulud [The Estonian Calendar Songs], a cycle for chorus, 1967) and soon his field of interests extended to the Baltic-Finnish tradition as a whole. Besides the culture of Finno-Ugrian peoples Tormis has tried to get into the spirit of other neighbouring nations (Põhja-Vene bõliina [The North-Russian Bylina], Bulgaaria triptühhon [The Bulgarian Triptych].
Tormis entered the Estonian musical life in the middle of the 1950-ies when Estonia was governed by Soviet powers. The existence of the Estonians and other minor ethnic groups was threatened but it was forbidden to express it verbally. Poetic sensitive message in Tormis’ works became powerful manifesto crossing over the boundaries of language. His music is a monument for collective memory of nation, a reflection of its state of mind.
In many cases, Tormis’ choral works are much closer to symphonic scores than traditional choir music. His works may be described as suggestive symphonies for voices. Tormis’ output has been influenced by conductor Tõnu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. For a long time the composer and the choir developed together – Tormis’ new works were born in collaboration with the choir and Kaljuste who introduced them at their concerts in different countries of the world. As a result of this collaboration a large number of recordings of Tormis’ works have been issued.
In Tormis’ music esthetical and ethical content are associated in remarkable way. His highly ethical nature is expressed in the titles of his works – Ühtehoidmise laul [The Song of Keeping Together], Laulusillad [Bridges of Song], and especially in his cycle Unustatud rahvad [Forgotten Peoples] (1970-89).